How to Treat Sunburned Lips (and Prevent Them in the First Place)

Lips got fried? Treat and soothe them at home with these derm-approved tips.


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When you’re slathering on sunscreen, it’s easy to remember the most obvious areas, like your arms, back, and legs. The lips, however, are easily overlooked. So, if you’ve been in the sun and have dry, painful skin in that area, you may be dealing with sunburned lips. People often don’t realize this is possible and assume they have a case of chapped lips, says Nazanin Saedi, MD, board-certified dermatologist and clinical associate professor at Thomas Jefferson University. In fact, your lips are pretty susceptible to burning. “The lips are a little more sensitive because the skin there is thinner,” Dr. Saedi says. 

Knowing how to treat sunburned lips can help you find some relief. Here’s how to tell if your lips are sunburned, how to soothe them, and how to prevent future burns.

Signs Your Lips Are Sunburned (and Not Just Chapped)

It can be hard to tell when your lips are chapped because of a sunburn, Dr. Saedi says. If your lips get dry a few hours after sun exposure and are accompanied by a hot sensation, you might be dealing with a sunburn. Peeling skin and blistering, which may appear anywhere between a few hours to a day after sun exposure, are also signs of sunburned lips.

If you're prone to cold sores, a severe sunburn can trigger an outbreak, which tends to be painful and appear clustered in one area. (A sunburn on its own won’t cause these to appear; the herpes simplex virus, which some people carry, is responsible for cold sores.)

Sun blisters, on the other hand, generally aren’t clumped in a central location, Dr. Saedi explains.  

How to Treat and Soothe Sunburned Lips

Generally, sunburns are the most painful between six and 48 hours after sun exposure, according to The National Library of Medicine. Sunburned lips should begin to feel better within three days, depending on the severity of your burn, according to Dr. Saedi. You can help your lips along with some gentle at-home care and over-the-counter products.

Standard sunburn care and relief applies to your lips, too, according to Dr. Saedi. So, what is the right way to soothe your skin?

Cold Compresses

To help manage pain, she recommends applying a cold compress to your lips, which can help with that warmth you may feel.

OTC Hydrocortisone Cream and Vaseline

After that, you can apply an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream, which reduces inflammation and any accompanying swelling. If you have petroleum jelly laying around, you can slather that on top to lock in the hydrocortisone cream. “With any burn, I like trapping in the main ingredient with Vaseline on top,” Dr. Saedi says.


Taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like Aspirin can help reduce inflammation and pain.


Be sure to hydrate while you’re healing because a sunburn draws fluid away from your body to the surface of the skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). And drinking plenty of fluids can help you avoid becoming dehydrated. (The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences recommends getting between 2.7 to 3.7 liters per day.)

Avoid Lipsticks and Glosses Until You're Better

There are a couple of things you want to stay away from until your lips heal, Dr. Saedi warns. “I would avoid wearing lipstick and lip gloss because they’ll cause more irritation.”

How to Prevent Sunburned Lips

Avoiding a brutal lip burn is always better than treating the effects of too much time in the sun. You’ll avoid some unnecessary pain and reduce your risk of getting skin cancer, which yes, can affect your lips, Dr. Saedi says.  

Of course, you always want to protect your entire body whenever you're outside, and you can do that by applying sunscreen before sun exposure—including on those kissers. To prevent sunburned lips, the ADA recommends using a lip balm with a minimum SPF of 15. Lather up and swipe on your lip balm on at least 15 minutes before you plan to get sun, which gives your skin enough time to absorb the product. The AAD recommends using broad-spectrum products, meaning they protect against UVA and UVB rays that are water resistant. Ideally, your sunscreen has an SPF of at least 30.

Reapply your balm and sunscreen every two hours, or sooner if you go for a swim or sweat, the AAD suggests. 

Even with sunscreen, it’s a good idea to stay in the shade whenever possible, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun is strongest, according to the AAD. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat can also reduce the amount of rays on your face.

Remembering to do all this can be a little annoying when you’re jonesing to get by the pool. But spending a few minutes to care for your skin is well-worth it to prevent sunburned lips.

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